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Dispatch | Nuclear Talks a Pocketbook Issue for Iranians


18 Jun 2012 12:57Comments
13910330173807453_PhotoL.jpg[ dispatch ] Debates over Iran's nuclear program have generally consumed politicians, bazaar merchants, and the press in Iran. But now ordinary Iranians are increasingly engaged in these issues. The economy is spiraling out of control and their livelihoods are on the line.

The latest round of negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany -- begins today in Moscow. These will be the third round of talks in a series that began on April 14 in Istanbul and continued May 23-24 in Baghdad.

Since late last year, when the United States and European Union announced new sanctions against Iran's Central Bank and oil industry, the rial has plummeted in value and inflation is rampant.

Abbas, a 50-year-old psychologist, thinks the mounting economic pressure will soon bring the Islamic Republic to its knees. "The government feels the danger," he says, referring to the European oil embargo, which is scheduled to kick in on July 1. "It is practically paralyzed by [the fear of] it."

U.S. and E.U. sanctions could cut off nearly half of Iran's oil exports, removing a million barrels a day from global oil markets, according to CNN.

"The government has no choice but to reach an agreement with the West," he asserts during a conversation in his office.

I remind him of Ayatollah Khamenei's speech two weeks ago in which he railed against the West for its approach toward Iran. "They're lying," the Supreme Leader said in a harsh tone. "They're not scared of a nuclear Iran. They're scared of an Islamic Iran." This delivery was in sharp contrast to early spring, when Khamenei was silent on the issue, signaling satisfaction with the state of international affairs.

"That's typical," says Abbas. "Iranian authorities feel they need to be vociferous so they can claim it was the West that backed down, not us."

Others disagree.

Leila, a young woman who works in a drugstore in Mashhad, the second largest city in Iran, doesn't see a breakthrough in sight, "because each side is talking past each other."

I remind her that the E.U. is preparing to put more pressure on Iran if the Moscow talks fail. But she doesn't believe the West is in any position to go through with an embargo on Iran's oil. "The European economy in already at a crisis point," she says.

13910330173819421_PhotoL.jpgIt's almost impossible to conduct an independent poll about how Iranians feel about the nuclear program, but if anecdotal evidence is an indication, it has a great deal of support among Iranians, even among the Green Movement. However, many in the opposition believe that Iran's nuclear pursuits must be for peaceful purposes and not in conflict with the West.

Even Leila thinks that if the embargo does go through at some point and "the economy gets even worse than it is now, we must accept their demands."

"The only thing more important than the nuclear program is to have something to eat for supper," she adds.

The day after I meet with Leila, I ask a taxi driver for his thoughts on the upcoming talks. His response is typical of many from the lower economic classes here.

"I wake up at 5 in the morning and do my rounds and return home at 11 at night. What do I know about the Moscow talks?"

Have sanctions affected his life?

"Oh, yes," he said. "They were supposed to deliver a Samand [a newer cab model] to me this year, but I'm still driving my Paykan [an old vehicle]. The company that's supposed to deliver the car wants to sell it at a new price, which is two million tomans [about $1,300] higher than the price we agreed on. This is because of the embargo on spare car parts. How am I supposed to come up with another two million?"

Shahram, 35, runs a barbershop in uptown Tehran. He too is deeply dissatisfied with the current economy. He says many of his clients are factory owners and influential people from the bazaar. "Most of them say the Iranian economy has been very stagnant in the past six months. Uncertainties about the nuclear negotiations have made industrialists very conservative and apprehensive about taking on any new serious business."

He asks me to step outside his barbershop and points to a house across the street. "Rent on that house was 1.5 million tomans [$1,100] three month ago. Now the landlord is asking for 2.2 million tomans."

Shahram quotes the tenant, whom he says he knows: "'My rent has doubled, but my income has not increased by a single rial.'"

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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